Tribal Markings


I’m noticing a bit of a split in behavior in the world, especially with women. First, all we want is to stand out and look unusual, more of an individual, more creative, smarter, more athletic, energetic and outgoing (a key trait employers want you to have). My question is why do we all follow fashion trends like a herd of cattle? Most every woman has long hair, we all are now wearing boots, Michael Kors handbags and  skinny jeans. Car trends, remember when we all bought Cadillacs because the pimps were doing it, then it was SUVs’ and now it’s becoming ever so hip to go ‘green’ and get a hybrid. With all this social conformity, the need to belong – where then is our individuality?

I’m a freelance film and television makeup artist. I’ve seen many styles come and go but my favorite is the one that we do ourselves without the guidance of a “professional”. In television right now the trend is to put a very dark eyeliner on the lid, on top of a very light color that gets ever darker as you go towards the crease. Then the outside of the eyelid is blended with a darker smudge going towards the nose.Sometimes the inner part of the lower lid is blackened and the eye is smudged to look like smoky dark patches. And we all do it, as a makeup artist I’m expected to know how to create these two looks and not to deviate too much because then it just doesn’t follow the trend.  Here we are back to being sheep and yet we constantly are looking for the one unique outfit to set off above the rest.

I’d like to offer a path into the unknown, an adventure in aesthetics and a question to put in front of the mirror. Do I really want to look like everyone else? Perhaps by just adding a lighter color to my eyelid and nothing else, that will define my face more. Or just some blush to add color to otherwise sallow skin. In any case, I’ve seen people do their makeup and with an almost reckless abandon and it’s perfect. It’s uniquely them and I loved it!!

“Doesn’t it just make you want to tell them how to do right?” I’m asked all the time. “No,” I have to say, it really doesn’t. It really makes me want to tell them how wonderful and extraordinary they look and to not change a thing! They’ve done something so unique  and so individual, that they own it like a singer owns the song she sings. It’s the freedom from contemporary norms that artists continuously strive for. They pound their heads on the pavement to get that kind of liberation and here it is for free! It comes so naturally for so many woman and yet we still go to the makeup counter to learn how to do it “right”.

I’m sure that the person that puts the black slashes of eyeliner with nothing else around it, has narrowed this design down from a full makeup routine, probably taught to her by an over-anxious department store makeup artist, who just has to get her sales figures up.  Along we come and buy everything that’s suggested but when we get home and have to run out the door with trails of oatmeal and coffee strewn around the kitchen sink, those last-minute black slashes, we decide, will do the job just fine. I say it just can’t get any better than that. It makes us feel complete, even though we forgot to get our lunch out of the refrigerator and the dog is still inside – the kids are off to school, we have our black slashes and so what if we traded the report that was due for the scarf in the hall closet?

Look at Lady GaGa. She follows no norms, no restrictions or codes of beauty and builds out her cheekbones with ridges or completely paints her eyes with kohl black. She might be the extreme example but why not? She is so unique that the rest of us drool to see what she will come up with next. So what makes us follow the magazines and become sheep-like to everyone else’s idea of style?

The reason I titled this article tribal markings, is that in native cultures, we see all kinds of makeup, jewelry and strange adornment that have developed over the centuries and the people who use them see themselves as very striking and important. As strange as some of the embellishments are to us, they see beauty and high art. The woman who made those little black slashes or the one doing the sky blue eye lids, have some very deeply rooted idea of aesthetics (when they’re not in a hurry). Probably ideas they’re not even aware they have. When they look in the mirror do they really see themselves or do they see someone else that they’ve seen in a magazine and it’s an attempt to copy it? Is it a distant childhood memory of what some else did? Is it because they were given a positive reaction from having done it once and they continue to do it not realizing that it’s evolved over time? Ultimately makeup and style is all a part of belonging to the tribe to society, but how many different ways do we have to conform? Can’t we let go just a little? The tribe will always be there.

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